The lead up to Saturday's game against the Chicago Fire has been a case of good news and bad news from Toronto FC. The good news is that our beloved German captain has declared himself fit and ready to go for the match. The bad news is that Danny Koevermans is now likely to be out with a groin injury and will in all likelihood join fellow Dutchman Nick Soolsma on the injured list.
Injury news aside this is an important game for Toronto FC. I am not going to press the panic button just yet and break out the big hyperbole like calling this a must win game or saying the season is nearly lost. Instead we should remember that TFC now sits 6 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite starting the season with 5 straight defeats. There are still 29 more games, including tomorrow's, so simply put there are plenty of points left to be picked up along the way. The concern is that the game against the Fire will be the club's fourth home game so another loss in that match would be painful. Simply put Toronto FC has been a terrible road team throughout their history so the dropped points at home are the most worrisome part of the poor start.
So are we looking at a must win game tomorrow? Not at all, but what will be key is to get some positivity going around the team. Fans are starting to lose faith in the club already and despite the players saying the right things in the media there is a sense that the urgency is growing among them. Another defeat would probably put morale around the team at an all time low and would fire up another round of questioning directed towards Aron Winter.
On the bright side though, a win tomorrow and things will suddenly be looking a whole lot better. How is Toronto going to go about trying to win this game though?Starting up top the likely absence of Danny Koevermans means that Ryan Johnson will be the man to lead the attack. He should be joined on the wings by Reggie Lambe and Joao Plata, as Soolsma continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Those three players have been lively in recent games but simply put they have not been good enough. Last time out against Chivas USA Johnson and Plata were coughing the ball up far too often and it killed off a lot of Toronto's attacking chances. Lambe on the other wing has yet to really show his value since joining the club. He has had some solid games of late but has yet to show any real scoring threat or find a way to cause defenders problems with his pace.
If Toronto is going to get a result those three will have to find another level in their game. Against a team like Chicago the chances will not be coming fast and furious but they will certainly be there. When they do come there is no room for wasting them and an early goal would do wonders for the teams confidence. The majority of the burden for turning around the teams scoring slump (2 goals in 5 games) will be on the attacking three and there will be no room for blaming bad luck or a lack of sharpness this week. It is time to get the job done in the final third.
Behind the attacking three Winter will have to decide who to go with in the attacking midfield slot. His choices are Luis Silva and Eric Avila who in theory were supposed to provide the club with a very solid one-two punch in that position. The problem is that Silva has cooled off and struggled after his very bright start to his career while Avila has barely been involved up to this point in the season. His lack of involvement in games so far this season, to be fair he was not eligible for CCL play, has had many wondering if there is something wrong with him health wise or if he is just out of favour with the coaching staff. It is possible though that Avila will start the game tomorrow as he provides a better option for creating chances for others even if he does not have the scoring threat of Silva.
In the middle of the park Winter will be looking at his three standard options. Julian De Guzman was on the bench last week in a bit of a surprise move but I would expect him to return to the starting lineup for this match. His days with TFC might be coming to a close this season but for now at least, the DP has a role to play and putting him on the bench does not make the team any better. I would expect him to be joined in the middle of the park by either Matt Stinson or Terry Dunfield. Stinson is back from duty with the national team and should be rested and ready to go again for the club. He was good for Canada in Olympic qualifiers and will look to build on last season's strong season if he does get some more minutes with TFC in the upcoming weeks. He would seem to be the more likely option with Dunfield being basically awful of late. Dunfield normally has his struggles with tackling and ball distribution but of late he has been a turnover machine and a real liability in such a key position. Given those problems I think many fans would be okay to see him ride the pine for this game.
That leaves the back four which is where Torsten Frings is probably going to make his come back from injury. Friday's training session gave the impression that Winter will be deploying the German as a true centre back for the game alongside Adrian Cann. At the moment it would seem that a pairing of Cann and Frings is the best that TFC can field with Ty Harden, Aaron Maund, Miguel Aceval, and Logan Emory all struggling of late. There is also Doneil Henry around but he has not had the easiest time getting playing time under Winter. There are a whole lot of options at CB but the fact that Toronto's best midfielder is yet again set to play as a defender shows just how little confidence Winter has in his centre backs. In the full back positions, barring a major surprise, it will once again be Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley as they continue to be locks to start if they are fit and available.
For Toronto FC the absence of Koevermans could hurt but if the team builds on their recent defensive performances they will at the very least be in with a chance. This is a team that was supposed to have a wealth of attacking talent, and they still do, but it now needs to wake up and start doing its part. If the defenders and Milos Kocic again only allow 1 goal as they have in the previous 2 home games, then the forwards need to take advantage and finally reward them with a win. If they can't do that, the hands will just get that much closer to the old panic button that Toronto sports fans are all too familiar with.